Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Not Dewi Sant but Ash Wednesday

Today's first assignment was the Eucharist and Ashing ceremony at St Catherine's, with a congregation of eight. Then, after lunch, a visit to Tredegarville School for a simple Ashing ceremony for staff and two hundred children. As today is St David's Day, their morning had been taken up with the traditional school Eisteddfod. I full expected the children to be fidgety and tired with over-excitement, and was amazed at how relaxed, quiet and receptive they were. I explained what we were about to do and then taught them to sing a Kyrie Eleison I learned half a lifetime ago from the Taize repertoire. Once they'd mastered it, they continued to sing throughout the procession of children to the front to receive their black smudge on the forehead. This was quite difficult to achieve with perfection, as some moved as I was taking aim. 

With prayers, it was all over in twenty five minutes. The look on children's faces as they came up to receive, some smiling, some serious, some looking a little lost in the moment, was just wonderful to behold. I would like to have spent time just looking into each child's eyes a little longer than the few seconds each took, as is possible when I meet children at the altar rail to be blessed during Mass. For me, this deepens the sense of awe and wonder at the heart of the sacramental mystery, seeing them so caught up in the experience of Christ's presence in worship.

Before returning home to finalise a sermon for the evening Mass, I spent a while in the church hall trying workarounds to the problem of poor wi-fi connectivity in the building. A wi-fi range extender purchased has not delivered expected results. The fault is not in the device but in the location of the wireless router, in an office under the stairs near the entrance. There building has a steel frame and reinforced concrete walls, making it just about impossible for router and extender to handshake, except when plugged in at a socket in the lobby, ten metres away. The extender's signal cannot penetrate the length of the hall and backstage as the only power socket is located next to a steel and concrete pillar which masks the signal or deflects it in the wrong direction. 

A powerline network setup with wi-fi extender would do the job nicely, if only there was a free wall socket in office under the stairs. The answer may well be to relocate the incoming phone socket, in the main hall, along with the wireless router itself. This made me envious of the solution adopted by some Spanish telecom internet service providers, of having phone and broadband delivered wirelessly into properties to domestic handsets and routers through a domestic transponder which captures signals broadcast from an 4G cell tower transmitter or a satellite antenna in the vicinity. This is occasionally subject to outages due to electric storms or really excessive traffic, as when there's a key football match or major emergency, and everyone is attached or trying to attach to the network at the same time, but normally, its fast, stable and effective.

There were twenty of us for the Solemn Mass and Ashing ceremony at St German's in the evening. For the second night running, everyone sat in the chancel and enjoyed the acoustical pleasure of singing parts of the service unaccompanied. Each Lent these days, I attempt to do something that requires me to be creative and learn something new and not just fall back on twenty odd years worth of material stored in my liturgy and preaching digital archive. This year, I'm going to highlight the different Psalms which are set for use in the Sunday Eucharistic lectionary, as so often these are sung or said with hardly a reference to them, when there's so much to be said about the rest of the readings. 

Tonight, it was Psalm 51, which has contributed phrases to so many expressions of penitence in Anglican forms of worship, and the daily offices. The biblical texts is annotated with a reference to origin as a prayer of king David occasioned by the unmasking of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his deadly effort to cover up his mortal sin. So often the prophets denounced Israel as an 'adulterous nation', as people's dalliance with the worship of foreign gods was considered in much the same terms, as being a breach of their covenant with God. Plenty of food for thought here.

I also wondered if there was some different effort I could make that wasn't just the usual routine of fasting, prayer and alms-giving, but which would push me into being more aware, more responsible. Often when I'm out walking I start feeling angry toward people who not only wander the streets at night drinking from bottles, but leave them dumped if not smashed in places where this could harm others, and leave the place looking ugly and uncared for. Often after football training or matches on pitches in Llandaff or Pontcanna Fields the grass is littered with discarded bottles and cans. Not all team coaches and supporters seem to be bothered about cleaning up after them. Occasionally I have collected a plastic shopping bag of stuff to carry to the nearby bins. 

It's immature and irresponsible behaviour, but impossible to police. So, instead of moaning and being resentful, I have resolved for Lent to make it my business to keep a bag in my pocket and pick up cans, bottles, takeaway cartons and the suchlike whenever I am walking anywhere. Having decided this at the Eucharist in St Catherine's this morning, I started on my way home, and collected seven pieces in just over half a mile. Some had been stuffed into boundary hedges, others balanced on garden walls, on waste bins, or ledges from which they could fall and smash. Two bottles that were parked on the street outside of Poncanna's gated St Winifrid's apartments lay there undisturbed since I walked to church on Sunday morning. Residents drive in and out seemingly oblivious of the squalor. 

Council auto-sweepers drive by occasionally, but they only do streets and gutters. Trash dumped out of reach seems to be nobody's concern. Well, if I can see it, I can do something about it, can't I? I don't have the energy to exhort others, start a civic awareness trend or a political campaign to extend community service payback schemes for delinquents to every city neighbourhood, but I can pick up what I notice, if I bother to make the effort this Lent. It is a bit of a penance, but it might help make me feel less ashamed about living in such a slovenly society.

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